What classical music is in Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’, and does Michelle Williams really play the piano?

27 January 2023, 17:28

What classical music is in Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’?
What classical music is in Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’? Picture: Alamy

By Siena Linton

‘The Fabelmans’ features a moving original score by Spielberg’s long-time collaborator John Williams, sprinkled with classical music excerpts.

In January 2023, Steven Spielberg’s “most personal film” to date was released in UK cinemas. The Fabelmans is a semi-autobiographical story of Spielberg’s childhood and journey to the silver screen, told through the lens of Sammy Fabelman and his family.

Like most of Spielberg’s feature films before it, the score to The Fabelmans is written by legendary film composer, John Williams, after 50 years of collaboration from one of Hollywood’s most iconic director-composer duos.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Spielberg’s parents, Arnold Spielberg and Leah Adler. Its score, the world-famous director says, is written “as a gift to them ... and his most personal gift to me as well”.

Read more: ‘Thank you, maestro’ – Spielberg says John Williams wrote ‘The Fabelmans’ music as a gift to the director’s parents

Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman in Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film, ‘The Fabelmans’.
Gabriel LaBelle stars as Sammy Fabelman in Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film, ‘The Fabelmans’. Picture: Alamy

The coming-of-age film follows Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel Labelle), who becomes besotted by the moving picture after a trip to the cinema with his parents, Burt (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams).

Mitzi in particular plays a large role in shaping John Williams’ score. Much like Spielberg’s real-life mother, Mitzi was a brilliant concert pianist who left the stage behind to raise her family.

In addition to piano music by Bach, Satie and more, Williams allows Mitzi’s talent on the piano to lead the rest of the soundtrack, which revolves greatly around the instrument.

Read more: Steven Spielberg confirms a documentary on film music legend John Williams is coming

What classical music is played in The Fabelmans?

In addition to John Williams’ original music, the movie also makes use of classical piano music, as Mitzi Fabelman plays the instrument at various points throughout the film.

Williams also incorporates a Haydn piano sonata into the music that closes the film, as the end credits scroll.

The full list of classical piano music used in the film is:

  • Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.1 in F minor
  • Kuhlau’s Piano Sonatina in A minor
  • Satie’s Gymnopédie No.2
  • Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BWV 974
  • Clementi’s Sonatina in C major, Op.36 No.3
  • Haydn’s Piano Sonata No.48 in C major

Read more: ‘You still got it!’ – 90-year-old John Williams casually plays Brahms concerto during recording session

Does Michelle Williams play piano in The Fabelmans?

Throughout The Fabelmans, Michelle Williams is seen playing the piano multiple times.

Her hand movement over the keyboard is incredibly accurate to the music, however it isn’t really Michelle Williams we hear on the soundtrack.

The real pianist is Joanne Pearce Martin, pianist of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, who was personally invited to play for the film’s soundtrack by John Williams himself.

In the video above, John Williams performs an extract from Brahms’ Piano Concerto No.2, as Pearce Martin looks on and Spielberg himself films the moment on his phone.

The Fabelmans is out in UK cinemas from 27 January 2023.